DES MOINES, Iowa - The No. 1-ranked LSU women's track and field team showed its might in Saturday's finale at the 2012 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships as the Lady Tigers captured the program's 32nd national championship all-time with a decisive 76-62 victory over the No. 3-ranked Oregon Ducks in the four-day event held at Drake Stadium.
Junior Kimberlyn Duncan helped propel the Lady Tigers to the team title by defending her national crown in the 200-meter dash and anchoring the team to the NCAA title in the 4x100-meter relay.
The Lady Tigers proved themselves as the nation's top team throughout the 2012 season as they also won the SEC Outdoor crown to write another chapter in the storied history of the nation's most iconic program in all of track and field. They also won their last NCAA crown at Drake Stadium in 2008.
With their performance, the LSU women captured their 26th national championship all-time with a total of 15 NCAA Outdoor titles and 11 NCAA Indoor titles since the 1987 season.
The race for the women's team championship turned into a two-horse race as LSU and Oregon opened up Saturday's competition with 40 points apiece to sit in a tie atop the team standings. The Lady Tigers piled up 36 points with their five scoring opportunities on the day, while the Ducks managed 22 points for their seven scoring opportunities as LSU ran away with the team crown by a final score of 76-62.
LSU and Oregon outdistanced the rest of the field as defending champion Texas A&M finished well back in third place with 38 points, followed by Clemson and Kansas in a tie for fourth place with 28 points.
"I have to give Oregon credit. Let's face it, they got in there and battled us and gave it all they could these four days," said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. "I was very nervous about what was going to happen for the team race all the way through the 5k. You can never count those people out when you're running for a championship. At the end of the day, I couldn't be more proud of our women for how well they competed and represented us here this week. They earned this national championship.
"They took charge of their own destiny themselves. We saw some great leadership this year. There were a lot of goals set as to what they wanted to achieve this season. I'll just be honest the team became the most important thing to them. They were not going to be denied today."
While opening Saturday's action by running away with the men's 4x100-meter relay title, the Tigers were squarely in the race for the team title throughout the afternoon as they ultimately took home an impressive runner-up finish in the final standings with 48 points for the week. The Florida Gators captured the men's crown while piling up 50 points in four days of competition at Drake Stadium.
Defending champion Texas A&M trailed in third place in the men's team race with 40 points followed by Florida state in fourth place with 38 points and Virginia Tech in fifth place with 33 points.
The Tigers have been on the verge of adding to their total of six national championships in recent years as Saturday marked the fourth runner-up finish at the NCAA Outdoor Championships since 2006.
"I thought our men had a really exceptional meet all the way through," Shaver said. "We definitely scored a lot more points than really anybody projected. I'm sure not many people even thought we would be here in the mix for the team title. For this to come right down to the last 50 meters of the (4x400) relay to see if you're going to be first or second for the national championship says a lot about the week we had."
The Tigers and Lady Tigers fired out of the blocks in Saturday's championship finale by sweeping 4x100-meter relay titles for the fifth time in school history at the NCAA Championships.
LSU is actually the only program in collegiate history to sweep the men's and women's 4x100 relay titles in the same season while accomplishing the feat in 1992, 1993, 1994, 2003 and 2012.
The Tigers were the first to step onto the track after earning their spot in the NCAA final with the second-fastest time of the semifinal round at 38.77 on Wednesday afternoon. The team of senior Barrett Nugent, freshman Aaron Ernest, senior Keyth Talley and sophomore Shermund Allsop returned to the track to line up in the final looking to catapult the Tigers into the thick of the national championship race.
After Ernest took the stick from Nugent on the first exchange, the Tigers took control of the race as Ernest gave way to Talley on the third leg. Talley gave the Tigers an insurmountable lead as he handed the baton to Allsop on the anchor as the Tigers raced to the finish line in 38.38 seconds for the victory.
They blew away the likes of Florida State (38.57) and NCAA leader Auburn (38.69) for the eighth NCAA 4x100-meter relay title in program history and first since the 2008 season. LSU's run of 38.38 equaled the Drake Stadium record in the event with the third-fastest time in school history.
Saturday's performance marked LSU's first victory in the men's 4x100-meter relay since April 7 with the "Battle on the Bayou," while they opened the NCAA Outdoor meet with a seasonal best of 39.49.
With their win, the Tigers extended an impressive streak with at least one NCAA Outdoor event title with 14-straight seasons since 1998, and 25 of the last 26 years dating back to the 1987 campaign.
"Coach Bennie (Brazell) telling us about how when he ran they had some struggles on the relay, too. This was about coming together as a unit and getting 10 huge points for the team race," Talley said. "We made sure we hit our exchanges right and made smooth passes all the way around. We didn't want to go out and be uptight, so it was just about having fun and just cutting loose."
The Lady Tigers followed by defending their national title in the sprint relay as the squad of junior Takeia Pinckney, senior Semoy Hackett, senior Rebecca Alexander and Duncan had the lead at the first exchange cruised to victory in 42.75 ahead of silver medalist Texas A&M (42.82).
Not only did the LSU women defend their crown with their 14th victory all-time in the event at the NCAA meet, but they also took a 50-45 lead over Oregon as the Ducks followed in fourth place at 43.58.
After the Ducks regained the lead with a 51-50 advantage after scoring six points in the final of the 1,500-meter run, Duncan and Hackett gave the Lady Tigers the lead for good while teaming for 14 points in the 200-meter dash. Duncan defended her NCAA title in the event, while Hackett followed in fifth place with her performance to give the Lady Tigers a lead of 64-51 they would never relinquish.
While running into a strong headwind of 2.3 meters per second, Duncan dominated the 200-meter final in crossing the finish line in 22.86 to finish well ahead of silver medalist Kai Selvon of Auburn (23.19) for a successful defense of her NCAA crown. It also marked her 18th-straight victory in 200-meter finals run in collegiate competitions dating back to the Tyson Invitational during the 2011 indoor season.
Duncan made history with her victory as she became the first sprinter in collegiate history to complete the NCAA Indoor and NCAA Outdoor sweep in back-to-back seasons. She also became the first LSU woman to win back-to-back NCAA Outdoor 200-meter titles in program history.
The Katy, Texas, native now owns six career NCAA event titles to tie her for the No. 2 spot on the team's all-time list with D'Andre Hill and Dawn Sowell. Muna Lee tops the list with seven career NCAA titles.
Hackett, who earned her spot in the final with a time of 22.58 in the semifinal, crossed the finish line with a time of 23.31 to take fifth place overall and add four points to LSU's team total.
"I'm proud of all the girls out here," Duncan said. "We came out here, worked as hard as we could and tried to score as many points as possible. I feel like we gave it our all, more than what we've done all season. Winning this team title is all that mattered to us. We got the 'W' today, and I'm proud of all of the girls on this team for how we really came together this season.
"I remember telling the girls coming in that all we needed to do was to just get into the finals first, and we would really start scoring some big points after that. I knew everything else would play out. We just really motivated each other and came here confident that we would get it done."
After sophomore Jasmin Stowers extended LSU's lead to 68-51 with her fifth-place finish in the final race of the 100-meter hurdles, the Lady Tigers clinched the national championship when Oregon was only able to score one point with Alex Kosinski's eighth-place finish in the 5,000 meters. The Lady Tigers raced for the 4x400-meter relay title with an insurmountable 68-52 lead in the team standings.
And the women's 4x400-meter relay final proved to be one for the ages as both LSU and Oregon set meet records for the NCAA Championships in a historic race to the finish line.
Oregon took the early lead with NCAA 100-meter champion English Gardner leading off, while the Lady Tigers trailed in third place at the break following the exchange between junior Latoya McDermott and Alexander. Following a brilliant 49.5-second split from Alexander, senior Cassandra Tate took stick at the second exchange with a narrow lead over Oregon's 800-meter All-American Laura Roesler.
Tate, who captured the NCAA title in the 400-meter hurdles on Friday night, split 50.90 with her effort on the third leg before handing off to senior Jonique Day on the anchor leg. While Day ran a strong 51.68 for her anchor leg, Phyllis Francis clocked 50.15 on the anchor for Oregon to edge Day at the tape.
The Ducks took the relay title with a meet-record time of 3 minutes, 24.54 seconds to finish a split-second ahead of the school-record run of 3:24.59 by the Lady Tigers.
Both teams eclipsed the previous NCAA Championship meet record of 3:25.26 set by the Lady Tigers with their victory in 2004. That also stood as LSU's previous school record in the event.
With 21 events scored, the Lady Tigers scored 76 points in four days of competition at Drake Stadium for a decisive 14-point victory over Oregon with the final score of 76-62. It was LSU's highest total during a NCAA Championships since winning the 1996 team title with 81 points, while it marked the largest point total for a winning team since South Carolina was crowned champion with 82 points in 2002.
"I think our women realized they were a much better team after a disappointing weekend for us to end the indoor season at the national meet," Shaver said. "They really took ownership of this team, and showed us great leadership throughout the season to get to this point. They certainly earned it."
Ernest put the Tigers in second place in the men's team standings with his performance in the finals of the 200-meter dash as he clocked 21.00 into a headwind of 4.2 meters per second out of Lane 1 to earn a fifth place in his first career NCAA final in the event. Florida State took the lead with 38 points after the event, while LSU trailed in second place with 37 points, followed by Florida in third place with 36 points.
Nugent then gave the Tigers a narrow two-point lead with a 42-40 advantage over the Gators after he took fourth place in the final of the 110-meter hurdles. Nugent clocked 13.80 (-3.5) to finish ahead of Florida's Eddie Lovett (13.82) in fifth place. Andrew Riley of Illinois took the title in 13.53.
Unlike the women's team race, the race for the men's championship came down to the final event as LSU and Florida each qualified a team into the final of the 4x400-meter relay.
The Gators took over the lead at the second exchange and finished the race in 3:00.02 to not only claim its 4x400-meter relay title, but clinch the men's team title while finishing ahead of the times of 3:00.64 by Southern California for second place and 3:01.21 by LSU for third place in the relay final.
Despite receiving strong splits of 44.84 for senior Ade Alleyne-Forte on the third leg and 44.24 for senior Riker Hylton on the anchor leg, the Tigers were unable to overtake either the Gators or Trojans to capture at least a share of their first NCAA Outdoor title since the 2002 season.
Tony McQuay, the 2011 U.S. champion and 2012 NCAA Outdoor champion in the 400 meters, anchored Florida with a 44.01-second split to lock up the men's team titles for the Gators.
"It's tough to catch a guy that fast," Hylton said of chasing McQuay. "He is a really good guy, has a lot of speed. All I wanted to do was to be close to him. Unfortunately, he was a little bit too far out front when I got it (the baton) on the exchange. All I wanted to do at that point was try to finish right behind him as we needed to get those points. We ran fast, just not fast enough today."
The Tigers and Lady Tigers wrapped up the meet by combining for four NCAA event championships and 31 All-America honors as event scorers on the weekend. They also combined to score 124 points for their four days of competition at Drake Stadium, including 61 points in Saturday's finale.
LSU's Women's Outdoor National Championships
1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2008, 2012
2012 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships
Des Moines, Iowa
June 6-9, 2012
Men's Final Standings
1. Florida, 50
2. LSU, 48
3. Texas A&M, 40
4. Florida St., 38
5. Virginia Tech, 33
6. Auburn, 30
7. Arizona, 27
8. Arkansas, 26
t9. Texas, 22
t9. Oregon, 22
Women's Final Standings
1. LSU, 76
2. Oregon, 62
3. Texas A&M, 38
t4. Clemson, 28
t4. Kansas, 28
6. Stanford, 25
7. Oklahoma, 24
8. Washington, 23
t9. San Diego St., 21
t9. Tennessee, 21